We’ve all met or heard of someone who is truly exceptional. There’s something about their personality, backstory, profession or passion that tugs at us, as if daring us to learn more. If you know of a fascinating person or community whose story you’ve always wanted to tell, or even if you want to challenge yourself to go out and find that amazing story from scratch, you’ve come to the right place. From February 14, 2023 through April 14, 2023, Narratively is accepting entries for our first writing contest of the year: the 2023 Profile Prize. We’re seeking surprising and awe-inspiring stories about one-of-a-kind people or groups. The winning stories will receive cash prizes, prominent publication on Narratively and a lot more — including the chance to connect with our incredible lineup of enormously accomplished guest judges (who also happen to be among the Narratively team’s storytelling heroes! More on them below!).
Who is Narratively? We’re a storytelling platform and production company that supports indie journalists and storytellers and celebrates humanity through true, authentic and diverse character-driven content. We publish our original stories on Narratively.com and often with top publishing partners across the globe, and we adapt our favorites into TV, film and podcasts with leading partners from Amazon Studios to Peacock to Warner Bros. Television. We’re immensely proud and excited to do the same with our Profile Prize winners! (You can learn more about Narratively’s mission and business model here.)
Who’s judging my story? Entries will be judged on a rolling basis in four rounds: the first three by experienced Narratively readers and staff, and the final by our very generous guest judges. We are beyond excited to have three absolute rock stars of the literary world judging this year’s Prize:
- Gay Talese: A legendary profile writer for The New York Times, Esquire and many other top outlets, Gay Talese is a pioneer of the New Journalism literary movement and bestselling author of 14 books across his remarkable writing career.
- Lisa Lucas: A groundbreaking book publisher who is currently senior vice president and publisher at Pantheon and Schocken Books at Penguin Random House, Lisa Lucas formerly served as executive director of the National Book Foundation, publisher at Guernica and director of education at the Tribeca Film Institute.
- Rebecca Traister: The New York Times-bestselling author of All the Single Ladies and Good and Mad, Rebecca Traister is a National Magazine Award-winning profile writer and journalist who has contributed to The New Republic, Salon, The Nation, The New York Observer, The New York Times and The Washington Post. She is currently a writer-at-large for New York magazine and its website The Cut.
So, what do I win?! In addition to publishing your work on Narratively.com and including it in a special Narratively 2023 Profile Prize Digital Collection, we’ll award the top three writers the following cash prizes:
- Grand Prize: US$3,000
- Finalist: US$1,000
- Finalist: US$1,000
…but wait, there’s more! A large part of our mission is developing TV series, films and podcasts inspired by Narratively’s unique stories. This creates new pathways, both creatively and financially, for Narratively and our contributors, and enables us to provide a platform for your work. We’ll support our Grand Prize Winner and Finalists by working to adapt their stories into larger projects. Beyond this, our Grand Prize Winner will join Narratively for a series of three exclusive and collaborative video conversations, one with each of our guest judges, to discuss exciting ways to build on their story and how to take the next step in their writing career.
(Psst! Please keep scrolling for more Prize info, but if you’re not yet ready to enter, we’ve got you covered: sign up for our Prizes newsletter to receive helpful reminders about Prize deadlines, updates and announcements, and news about future Narratively Prizes on a variety of topics.)
What are we looking for, exactly? Narratively profiles tell the story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. For this writing contest, we want each of these stories to be a riveting, in-depth look at a person or community that is doing something surprising, inspiring or groundbreaking. We’re also drawn to stories that offer a window into an unexplored world or way of life. Your story can profile just one person or a group of people, and it can be about anyone, whether they’re living, recently deceased or lived long ago. The important thing is that they have an incredible story and you’re offering a new perspective or angle on their life. Across everything we do, Narratively’s absolute focus is on spotlighting untold stories and supporting underrepresented voices, so we prefer profiles of people whose stories have not already been widely told elsewhere; but we’re open to profiles of well-known people if you’re sharing something new and unexpected about them. In short, think of the most interesting person or community you’ve ever heard of, and write about them!
Here are a few examples of Narratively profiles we love:
- Meet the Paranormal Moms Society
- Inspired by Black Lives Matter, This Masked Man Patrols Under the Cover of Darkness
- The First Family of Counterfeit Hunting
- The Man Who Got America High
- The Obsessive Life and Mysterious Death of the Fisherman Who Discovered The Loch Ness Monster
- America’s Most Flamboyant Private Eye and the 8,000-Mile Manhunt
- Revolución on the Cookie Factory Floor
- America’s Next Top Male Model Wears Size XXXXL
- The Deep South’s Dames of Dildos
- Meet Ladybeard, the Crown Prince of Japan’s Strangest Music Scene
So, how does this work? Our competition period opens at 9 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on February 14, 2023, and closes at 9 p.m. EDT on April 14, 2023. Enter your eligible piece via our dedicated form on Submittable by uploading your submission and paying a US$20 entry fee within the prize submission period. We expect to announce our final decision on or around June 15, 2023.
Why do we charge a fee? Your entry fee will allow us to compensate the people who are helping us effectively and fairly evaluate every single Prize submission — from our freelance readers to our Prize editors, copy editors, fact-checkers, visual editors and producers.
What should my entry look like? As with all Narratively stories, submissions should be composed of vivid, active scenes, unique characters and an engaging narrative arc. We have a few rules to follow, but encourage maximum creativity within these guidelines. The best way to get a sense of what we’re looking for is to read the stories on the list of examples we love above. (Full formatting info is available on our Submittable form.)
Your piece should be:
- Ready to publish — no pitches accepted
- In the 1,500-7,000-word range
- Original and previously unpublished as a written work
- Written in English, although translations are acceptable
You should be:
- Eighteen years of age or older on or before 9 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on April 14, 2023
- Not employed by, related to or sharing living quarters with Narratively staff or our guest judges
To answer your questions:
- We will accept simultaneous submissions (meaning you also can submit your entry to other outlets during our open Prize window), but writers must notify us if their piece is accepted elsewhere.
- We will accept multiple submissions from a single author, but each story must be submitted and paid for individually.
- We will permit adaptations from other media (podcasts, scripts, etc.) with disclosure.
- This competition is open to anyone, including past and current Narratively contributors. (Current and former Narratively editors, however, are ineligible.)
- The Grand Prize Winner and Finalists will be required to sign our standard Contributor Agreement, an overview of which can be found here.
- These are a few of the key points in our agreement:
- You retain print publication rights, should you pursue a book version of your story now or in the future.
- Narratively has the right to pursue TV and film projects based on the work. These projects could be either unscripted/documentary or fictional (inspired by your story).
- Revenue from any TV or film projects is shared with contributors.
- We publish Narratively Out Loud, which features read-aloud audio versions of all Narratively stories, so the contract also gives us the rights to produce those.
- Take a look at our FAQ page here.
For full Prize eligibility and rules, click here. Still have questions? Email us at [email protected] Also, sign up for our Prizes newsletter to receive helpful reminders about deadlines, Prize updates and announcements, and news about future prizes on a variety of topics.
We can’t wait to be invited into your world. Best of luck!